Ex-US Navy SEAL's killing puts focus on war's psychological toll

Tue Feb 5, 2013 5:00am IST

Eddie Lee Routh is pictured in this booking photo provided by the Erath County Sheriff’s Office. REUTERS/Erath County

Eddie Lee Routh is pictured in this booking photo provided by the Erath County Sheriff’s Office.

Credit: Reuters/Erath County

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REUTERS- The slayings of former U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and another man trying to help a troubled U.S. military veteran, now charged in their murders, has renewed focus on the psychological wounds of war.

Eddie Lee Routh, 25, of Lancaster, Texas, an active duty Marine from 2006 to 2010 who served in the Iraq war, faces murder charges that could lead to the death penalty in the shootings on Saturday at a Texas gun range 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Fort Worth.

Jason Upshaw, a captain in the Erath County Sheriff's Office, said on Sunday that Routh's mother had reached out to Kyle to try to help her son, who Marine Corps records show served one tour of duty in Iraq.

The Dallas Morning News, quoting police reports from Lancaster and Dallas, on Monday said that twice in recent months Routh was behaving erratically and was taken to a mental hospital, including one instance in which he was "threatening to kill himself and his family."

Routh, now a military reservist, is charged with one count of capital murder and two counts of murder in the shooting deaths of Kyle, 38, and Kyle's friend, Chad Littlefield, 35. They were shot at close range on Saturday at the Rough Creek Ranch gun range, which was designed by Kyle.

Routh is being held on a $3 million bond at a county jail and Dallas television station KXAS reported that Routh was tasered by jail guards Sunday night after becoming aggressive and he had been placed on suicide watch.

Authorities were still trying to determine what led to the shooting, which took place at close range.

"I don't know that we will ever know," Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant told a news conference on Sunday.

Officials said Routh's mother may have contacted Kyle, a distinguished military sniper and author of the book "American Sniper," because he co-founded the FITCO Cares Foundation that tries to help veterans recovering from physical and emotional injuries.

Law enforcement officers have not said Routh specifically suffers from post traumatic stress, a severe anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or participating in traumatic events, but the killings renewed the focus on PTSD among veterans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimated in a report released last fall that about 30 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress.

The shooting would not be typical of a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress alone, said Dr. Harry Croft, a San Antonio psychiatrist who specializes in treating veterans for post-traumatic stress.

"Although this is very sensational and very tragic, it is at the same time, very rare," Croft said, adding that he was concerned that it might stigmatize returning veterans.

Julie Wynn, a counselor who has worked with returning veterans as well as survivors of the 2009 shooting incident at Fort Hood, said the stress of war affects everyone differently.

"Some people come home and they never have a problem, they put it behind them, they lead normal lives," she said. "Other people, with stressors like family, jobs, the economy, they don't do well with moving on."

Kyle had been volunteering to help Marine Corps veterans suffering from PTSD, sometimes taking them to the shooting range, according to a posting on a website run by members of the Special Operations Forces.

Kyle had called ahead to let staff know the group would be there on Saturday and the three men rode together to the range in Kyle's pickup truck, officials said.

After the shooting, Routh drove to his sister's house in Kyle's truck and told her what happened, authorities said. She called police after he headed home, where he was arrested a short time later.

Kyle, who served four combat tours of duty in Iraq, won two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars for bravery, according to his book, which covers his military service from 1999 to 2009.

Interviewed in January about the call for gun control in the wake of the slayings at a Connecticut elementary school, Kyle told the website guns.com he favored arming teachers who have been screened and trained but opposed restrictions on gun owners.

(Additional reporting by Marice Richter; Editing by David Bailey, Barbara Goldberg and Martin Golan)

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